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The rainbow family

“I want to colour my hair blue too!”

My youngest, all of six years, holds my hand and swings as she walks. One of her older sisters walks a little ahead of us. We are on our daily evening stroll around our development. The sun has not yet set, bathing us all in a golden glow. My older child Mira’s hair glints in the sun as she toys with a lock of hair and sniffs it.

Mira* has been begging me to let her colour her hair. She sees me painstakingly apply henna and indigo every few weeks. She hates the smell but is curious enough to linger, to watch the effort that goes into maintaining facades. I humour her this one time saying the next time I colour my hair, I could apply indigo to her hair and it would probably turn blue for a few weeks until it washes out.

Sara* wants blue hair too. Except she has jet black hair unlike her sister who sports blonde hair. Mira and I laugh, and quickly school our faces into a semblance of seriousness when we realise Sara really means it. It takes us two rounds around the grassy oval before she understands that genetics has endowed her with black hair, while her sisters get their blonde hair from their birth mother. It also dawns on her fairly quickly that she is likely to get grey hair just like me. She finds the news heartening.

“At least I can colour my hair then,” she says forgiving me the way only a six-year-old can.

“I’ll wait for my actual sister,” Mira says emphasising the actual in her sentence.

I pause for a moment, not quite sure if I should take her to task for differentiating between her birth sister and her sister by adoption.

“Why did you say ‘actual’? Sara is just as much your sister as Anya* is,” I say. I keep my voice neutral, my tone curious. I am trying to understand where that feeling comes from.

“Oh! Anya and I were born to Mommy B. Sara was born to you. Anya is my actual sister, Sara is my adopted sister,” Mira explains to me as she would to a small child. There is no malice in her words. It just is, this complex relationship between three siblings who look different and have different personalities.

“You used to butt amma’s bladder when you were in her tummy, causing her to go pee all the time,” Mira and Anya are regaling Sara with stories about the time before she was born. Sara is curious. She is also proud to hear these stories from her sisters.

“Where were you when I was in amma’s tummy?”

“Did you butt Mommy B’s bladder when you were in her tummy?”

The only normal

I see my children talk about birth, about adoption, about looking different casually. They take it in stride. This is the only normal they know.

I share these conversations with friends and family. Almost always, they feel pity for me, for my children. They feel like these are burdens little children should not bear. They also feel insecure on my behalf.

“I could never take it easily like you do,” one of them says. I nod. Perhaps, they may be able to, perhaps, they may not.

“You never know what you are capable of unless you walk in anyone’s particular shoes,” is my canned answer.

Insecurity comes with the territory when you decide to parent another family’s child. The relationship begins in loss. A family loses a child. A child loses its family, its birth history and severed from all that it knows. As an adoptive parent, I gain a family. I gain a child. I finally am a mother.

This is a strange relationship. One artificially constructed, one that takes a whole lot of effort and intention to supplant what was originally intended. Insecurity has no place in this equation. Instead, what is required is a great deal of empathy. As a parent, it is imperative for me to treat any statement from my child with curiosity, with an intent to understand where those feelings are coming from.

In a relationship like the one my children and I share where my children not only lost their birth family but also their birth culture and are surrounded by people who do not look like them, these questions are not only natural but expected.

All I have to offer from my end is a never-ending well of love, compassion and empathy and a willingness go to any lengths to make sure our home is a safe space for my children. It is my duty to make sure our home is where they can safely fall apart so we are there to hold them and heal them.

lakshmi.iy3r@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 9:09:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-rainbow-family/article32191053.ece

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